The Heart of a Missionary, part 4
Scripture: Jonah 4
Never become a church community that loses its commitment to take the gospel of Jesus to those who are far from the Lord.
I want to give you a little bit of a roadmap of where we’re going here. today we’re going to end out our time in the Book of Jonah. Next week will be Easter. And then right after our Easter celebration, we’re going to begin preaching through the Book of Philippians. I’m telling you this now, so as you have opportunity over the next couple of weeks, go and read that book so you can get a sense for where we’re going, learn from the Lord on your own, and then we’ll celebrate by looking at that book together.
Well, as I mentioned today, we are going to conclude our time in this brief series in Jonah. We’ve been looking at this book to learn what sort of heart we should have so that we can be the missionaries that we are called to be. Rochester needs us to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. We’re not the only ones God’s calling. There’s plenty of churches in town that God is calling to bring the Gospel of Jesus to our city. But we know that we’re part of that because this is where we live. And every Christian is sent into the mission field. There is not a follower of Jesus anywhere that isn’t called to go and to make disciples. We can be disobedient to that call. But we are not exempt from it. Doing that work then starts with our hearts.
It has to start right here. Has to start with what’s going on inside of us. What do we care about? What are we passionate about? What motivates the choices that we make? What we need is an ever increasingly biblical view of the world so that our priorities are lined up correctly. I have to value in my heart what God values in His heart, and when I do that, then I’ll be ready to do whatever it is that He calls me to do. Now, as I said three weeks ago when we began this series, Jonah, for us, is a cautionary tale. We are learning this heart of a missionary from a terrible example of the heart of a missionary. Jonah is here to scare us straight. If your kids saw Jonah on the street doing all the things that Jonah does, you would call a family meeting that night, wouldn’t you? The kids gather on the couch. Now, what did you see Jonah doing today? Yes, I know he was swallowed by a whale. But why was he swallowed by a whale? You’d have to go through that. Jonah, for me, is like those CAUTION LOW CEILING warning signs. At six foot two, this is the most important sign I have ever seen. I need this sign in my life to tell me. What’s happening here is it’s basically saying in two and a half feet, you will be this person if you don’t watch out.
The Lord gave us the book of Jonah so that in two and a half feet, we don’t become Jonah. And today we’re going to find out why. The first three chapters of the book have had a lot of bad behavior in it that we wouldn’t expect from a prophet of the Lord. But so far, we don’t know exactly why Jonah is acting this way. We don’t know the deeper sin that is behind the presenting sin. Yes, he ran away. But why did he run away? He asked the sailors to kill him. But why? He never repented, never once in the book. But why not? Why does he pray so innocently when he’s clearly so guilty?
Did you know that with every sinful thing that you do, there is a deeper sin that is driving it? Did you know that everything that you’ve done in your life that is a sin against the Lord has a deeper sin going on in your heart? There’s some idle, some godless value that motivated you to do what you did. So, for instance, if you are quick to anger, that anger might be motivated by a value that you’ve placed on getting your way. So there may be a pride in your heart that says what the world is for, is to do my bidding. Everyone must serve me. I’m worthy of being served. And so when, of course, when inevitably the world does not bow down to your every whim, you then become angry. See how that works? In that scenario, anger may be the presenting sin, but the real problem, the real problem that’s going on in you is pride from a false view of yourself as one who should be served at all times. And the antidote for that, the way the way Scripture would speak to that would be to say, you have to remember that there’s a King and it’s not you. There’s a King and you’re not that one sitting on the throne. There’s a King and his name is Jesus, not your name. And his example to you, this King and his example, was to come and serve other people. See how the gospel is the antidote to that pride that’s inside of you. For the for the gospel to penetrate your heart and to bring healing and transformation, you have to follow your sins down to their source.
And that’s what we’re going to do today. Today, we’re going to follow the sins that we have seen in Jonah down to their source. We’re going to look at the heart of the matter that is keeping Jonah from being the man of God that he is called to be. And at the same time, we’re going to address why it is that many of us struggle to have the heart of a missionary. We’re going to see that struggle comes from our sins. Why we struggle to do all that Jesus has directed us to do, to make disciples comes from a sin that’s much deeper. As we pull the lid off of that and expose that evil today, I want us to make a commitment together this morning. I want us to make a commitment. Let us never become a church community that loses its commitment to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are far from the Lord. We’re going to talk more about this commitment later on in our time this morning. But for now, if you would, please open your Bibles to Jonah, chapter 4. I also have it on the screen this morning, but you can turn there if you’d like to. The passage starts by getting directly to the heart of the matter, and then the Lord uses an illustration to show Jonah what’s going on in his own heart. Now, Jonah 4 picks up immediately from Jonah 3. So it’s just a continuation there. Let me just quickly recap where we’ve been in the last chapter. After running away from the Lord for the first time, Jonah got a second chance, didn’t he? God set him right again, and with it he actually goes to Nineveh and proclaims that the city is going to be destroyed in 40 days.
And then what happened was the king then called a citywide repentance. He called for everybody to repent in the hope that God would see that they have sincere repentance and that He would turn away from destroying them. And that is exactly what God did, because that’s exactly who God is. That’s in God’s character. We serve a God who relents of destruction for those who turn to Him and repent and bring their sin to Him and ask for grace. So that’s where we’re at. Pick it up with me in verse 1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly. And he was angry and he prayed to the Lord and said, Oh, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster. Therefore, now, oh Lord, please take my life for me, for it is better for me to die than to live. And the Lord said, Do you do well to be angry? So there it is. We’ve been waiting for it.
Here it is. Finally, he says it out loud. There’s the reason Jonah ran away and resisted this entire time. He believes that the repentance of the Ninevites is an evil thing. Now it’s hard to translate into English what verse 1 says. It literally says ‘It was evil to Jonah, a great evil’. That’s what it says. And that is super awkward. So we use words like exceedingly displeased. But here’s the thing, Church. I have been exceedingly displeased without reaching the level that Jonah reaches here. I was sitting in a coffee shop this week just minding my own business, enjoying the quiet. When two ladies came in and sat down right next to me and they started loudly discussing their recent dental surgery, including phrases like ‘bone on bone’, ‘not enough tooth left’ and ‘bone loss’. That displeased me exceedingly. Is that just a thing here? Just before we go on, is that just a thing here in Rochester that people will just go into a coffee shop and loudly discuss the details of their medical situations? Is this what Mayo has done to you? That was displeasing. That was not evil. And there’s a huge difference. See, back in Jonah 1:2, Jonah was told to go to Nineveh because their evil, same word, had come up before the Lord. When Nineveh heard of their destruction, they repented of their evil, of the violence in their hands. And when God saw them turn from their evil ways, same word right in the verse before this, He relented. He turned from his destruction that He planned to turn from for Nineveh’s sake.
Jonah calls that turning from evil evil. He calls God relenting from His destruction evil. And because he feels right in calling this repentance and mercy evil, he bursts with what he thinks is righteous anger. Now, why does he do this? Well, he tells us in his prayer to the Lord, Lord, is this not what I said? Now we don’t have what Jonah said in the book back in at the beginning of the book. We don’t have what His dialogue with the Lord was because the author wanted to reveal that here. But think about this: Jonah isn’t upset because things didn’t go as he thought. He’s upset because they went exactly as he thought they would. For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting of disaster. Jonah is upset because he knew God was merciful. He knew God was patient. He knew God was loving that he would not destroy the Ninevites if they repented. And he knew that his trip to Nineveh as a prophet to share God’s Word and God’s warning with them would give the Ninevites an opportunity to repent. When they did, the merciful, patient, loving character of God would kick in and save these people. And that’s what he didn’t want to see happen. He didn’t want that to happen.
And then Jonah’s self-righteous opinion, these people deserved punishment. These people deserve to die. These worthless Ninevites should get exactly what they have coming to them. Why? Because they’re not a Hebrew like he is. Remember chapter 1. I am a Hebrew. I serve the living God, but not these Ninevites. They’re not like me. They’re not God figures like he is. They’re evil. And for them to avoid the consequences of their evil would be evil itself.
Church, if we’re going to nurture hearts that are like Christ, hearts that align with the heart of the Lord, we have to start by being honest about how ungracious we often are. Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death. No question of that. That’s justice. Sin leads to death, and that’s the just end of sin. But are we hoping in our hearts for justice? Are we hoping that an exceedingly sinful culture will be destroyed and that the people who embrace the sinfulness of our city will catch the wrath of God? I’ll tell you something. Many of the conversations that I’ve had with Christians about the evil in our world sound a lot like that’s exactly what they’re hoping for. That’s what they want. To hear some politically conservative Christians talk about progressive Democrats, you’d think that Christ called us on a mission to mock and judge people. Wouldn’t you? To hear some Christians talk about Muslims, you’d think arrogance was a spiritual gift. That somehow we’re called to show the world the superiority of Christ by calling people names and disparaging people’s cultures. You’d think that was what the Scripture told us to do.
Just weeks before we moved here, this was really hard. But just weeks before we moved here to Rochester, there was a school shooting just a few miles from our home in the Detroit area. You probably heard about it. A boy took a gun to school, bought by his parents as a Christmas present, and he killed four students. He injured a few other students. And you can imagine that just devastated our city. We were just devastated there. This is an act of unspeakable tragedy, unspeakable evil. And there’s no question of that. The boy and his parents are right now on trial. And so I’m sort of keeping up with that, interested in that, from the Detroit media. I’m checking that out. And the hope for everyone right now in the city is, and rightly so, is that justice will be done in this situation because the Lord is a God of justice. And so we want to see justice done. But if you listen to the public opinion right now on these three people, you’d see another kind of evil, that to some, because of our culture, isn’t evil at all. It doesn’t sound or look like evil to them. Calls for public execution. Calls for this boy to be harmed while he’s in prison. Calls for these people to burn in hell.
It’s amazing to me how quickly moral relativism goes right out the window as soon as anything really evil in the world happens. Suddenly everybody knows exactly what’s right and wrong. Public opinion on this thing is without grace and it’s without mercy. And it would be very easy for Christians to go right along with the crowd to simply state that the biblical truth that sin leads to death, and that would be the end of the whole matter. Judgment.
That’s where Jonah is with the Ninevites. That’s where he is. And he is upset because he knew it. He knew God in His mercy, patience and love would save these Ninevites. And so now he’s upset. He’s upset with God for being the God that He is instead of the God that Jonah wanted him to be in this situation. And he becomes a drama queen, doesn’t he? Oh, my goodness, take my life, Lord. It’s better for me to die than to live. You know, I have to say, it’s a pretty good thing that God actually is patient for Jonah, because this guy is something else, isn’t he? I mean, he is something. Basically. he says, God, if you’re not going to kill them, then kill me. If you’re not going to take them out, take me out. I don’t want to live in a world where the Ninevites get forgiven. And the Lord asks him the obvious question – do you do well to be angry? Is your anger justified? You really feel that you’re righteous in your anger here, Jonah?
By the way, that is a fantastic question to ask yourself. Any time that you are angry, just pull that right out, you know, out of context. I get it. But just ask that question every time that you are angry. Do I do well to be angry right now, is my anger justified here? Am I righteous, or do I just lack the grace, patience, love that God demands of me?
Well, let’s watch God’s patience with Jonah. Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord of God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was ‘exceedingly glad’ because of the plants. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind. And the sun beat down on his head on the head of Jonah, so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, it is better for me to die than to live. But God said to Jonah, Do you do well to be angry for the plant? And he said, yes, I do well to be angry. Angry enough to die.
You get that feeling that Jonah just can’t see how ridiculous he sounds, don’t you? You get that? Like he just can’t hear it. He says stuff, and you go, let’s just step back, take a breather, Jonah. Just step back. Does this sound right? He can’t hear it. I know there have been times in my life when my priorities were all out of order, but I hope I didn’t sound this dumb, you know? Jonah goes east of Nineveh to build a little shelter for camping and then sits there waiting to see what will happen. It seems that he is still hoping that God will change his mind and go ahead and destroy them anyway. Now, remember, Jonah thinks that he’s won the first argument. That’s why he’s continuing on like this.
But God, being very patient with Jonah, makes three appointments for him. There are three appointments. He appoints a plant to grow and give Jonah some shade while he waits. And this shade is so that Jonah won’t feel any discomfort. That Jonah will be cared for. Well, this is cozy. Thank you, God. Thank you, God, for this plant so that I can kick back and watch the fireworks that will now come down on Nineveh. Thanks for taking care of me. That word there, exceedingly. See how he’s exceedingly happy about it? Exceedingly. It’s the same word used in v.1. Jonah is as delighted to be saved from the sun, as he was angry that the Ninevites were saved by God. And God then appoints a worm to attack the plant so that it withers doesn’t provide that SPF protection that he’s wanted so much. Right? And so this worm comes and it withers the plant the next day. And then to top off the lesson, God appoints a strong east wind, a scorching wind and the sun to beat down on Jonah’s head to make him miserable. Jonas response to all this is to ask that he could just die again because, as he explains, it would be better for him to die than to live.
Now as a guy who doesn’t tan at all and simply burns in the sun, I can sort of relate here, but I have never despaired of my life because of a sunburn. Anybody? Jonah probably wouldn’t have either. He probably wouldn’t have despaired of his life here, if this wasn’t the final misery in what he sees as a long list of God not doing right by him. He sees this as the capstone. This is the ultimate insult. God has not been on my side this entire time. He just can’t believe God wouldn’t bless him. Jonah is very centered on the comfort and the privilege and the salvation of Jonah. He wants that very much for himself. He can’t conceive of a God who would treat a prophet of God like this. Think about why he’s angry. He’s angry because he’s not able to sit back in comfort and watch the Ninevites be destroyed. The extent of his hope for God’s grace and for his blessing is for himself. As long as he is taken care of by God, as long as his world is aligned, as long as he is comfortable. Who cares what happens to anybody else? This complaint from Jonah could not be more opposite of the gospel, could it? Could it possibly be more opposite? Jonah says, Make me comfortable while the evil people of this world are destroyed. And Jesus comes along and he says, Give me the greatest discomfort, so that the evil people of this world can be saved. Jonah says, Take my life if I don’t get blessings, take it from me. And Jesus says, take My life to give the blessings of God’s grace to all who believe. Jonah goes outside of town to watch sinners be destroyed. Jesus went outside of town to take the place of sinners. Jonah’s values are the opposite of the gospel in every way.
Don’t ever read this book like you’re reading how God wants us to think. He’s showing you to think in the opposite way. That’s why he’s the warning sign to us. Watch your head. Watch your head. I just moved into a very comfortable house. I’m about to get some more comfortable furniture in my office. I have a very comfortable life. So do you, probably. It would be so easy for us to nestle into it, wouldn’t it? It would be so easy for us to nestle into our comfortable lives and insulate ourselves from the realities of Christ’s mission. We could easily begin to prize ourselves over our call to be disciple makers. We could find ourselves falling into the trap of caring more about our own comfort than about the eternal discomfort of millions of people across our world who have no access to the Gospel. We could easily dismiss their ignorance of the gospel as their own fault, as their problem, not our problem. We could lose sight of our call to the people who are right around us. Let me ask you something this morning Church, which one would be easier? Which one is easier? Is it easier to continue to find ways of investing into the lives of lost family members and praying for them and listening to them and listening to them push Christ away and listening to them resist the gospel and still caring about them, still caring about what they think, still trying to learn what they what they think, and trying to find ways of speaking gospel truth into their lives.
Would that be easier or is it easier just to decide that they’re too far gone into wash your hands of all of it. Which one’s easier? Is it easier to stay within the confines of the church community? To shake your head at the thought of living in an increasingly hardened secular Christless culture. Or is it easier to find ways into the community, to build friendships, to enter into that increasingly difficult, secular, hardened culture, to find people and to relate with people and to build relationships with people who do not know Jesus, and spending time with them so that you can find opportunities to share Christ with them. Which one’s easier? It will always be easier to do less. It’ll always be easier to do less. It will always be easier to stand outside and to judge and to condemn. Not caring is always easier than caring. But listen to the Lord’s response. And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’ Jonah cares more about the plant than the people of Nineveh, because the plant brought him comfort. And those people deserve destruction, which is ridiculous. But notice, notice something: the Lord doesn’t reason like that. He doesn’t just come along and say That sounds ridiculous. Can you see how ridiculous that is? He doesn’t reason that way. This is sort of a twist ending. The point of the plant was to make Jonah care. The point of the plant was to make Jonah care about something, something very insignificant, so that that he would learn to care about something of great significance. Do you care about something very small. You care about something very insignificant and very little value. You invested no time into this plant, and yet you’re angry it’s gone. Nineveh is a great city. It’s full of 120,000 people. By the way, that’s about the size of Rochester, 125,000 people. Right. If you care about that plant. Don’t I have to care about the people of Nineveh? Don’t I have to care about them? There’s the twist. He doesn’t tell Jonah to care. He simply says what he cares about. God says, I must care. I must care. This is what Jonah has missed all along. And this is what you and I cannot miss.
God cares for all the people of his creation. He cares for people. His heart is for the nations. His heart is for the lost everywhere that they are. Where Jonah sees sinners worthy of judgment, God sees people in need of rescue because they don’t know they’re right from their left. That’s a reference to spiritual blindness. They can’t see, they can’t feel their way through. They can’t see their way forward. God cares about people who are spiritually blind and lost. Now will we lift that darkness for all people? No. We know that he will not. Not always. It’s up to God who’s going to respond to the Gospel. It’s up to God who’s going to respond and repentance in that call to salvation in Christ. But in this case, he ordained a citywide repentance that would add Assyrians to the Kingdom of God. So of course he cares. And as a person who seeks the heart of God, at least in theory, at least in identity, Jonah should care too. So does he? Does he turn it around? We don’t know. Because the book just ends. The book just ends. This is like one of those arthouse movies that you’re watching all along and you’re like, not really following the plot here, and then it just fades to black and you’re like, Is that it? That’s the ending of the movie? I do not understand this.
This ends on a question the Lord asks Jonah if he should have pity on Nineveh. And then Micah starts. Is there a Jonah 5? Who writes a book like this?
The book ends on this question because the book is a challenge. It ends on a question because it’s a challenge. The question isn’t just to Jonah. It’s to us as readers. Are we going to have the kind of mercy, patience and love for our enemies that God has for his enemies? Are we going to see the Lord’s mercy and make it ours? Are we going to take on His grace, or are we going to take on the character of God and have a different kind of heart? Are we going to go where He sends us because of his deep love for people and his desire to see them repent and turn to him and to turn from their evil ways and come to salvation. I want to return to that commitment that I mentioned at the beginning of our time today. Let us never become a church community that loses its commitment to take the Gospel of Jesus to those who are far from the Lord. Whether that’s around the world or whether that’s right here in Rochester, let us never become the church that doesn’t care too much. That is content with our comfortable lives. That is content to see others remain blindly in their sin.
We need God-given discomfort at the thought that we would live safe and easy lives of leisure, while the task of reaching our neighbors for Christ remains incomplete. We need God given discomfort in that. There’s going to be discomfort in the call to fulfill God’s mission here at Calvary. Let me see if I can anticipate some of it. Let me see if I can anticipate some of that discomfort. Here are here are worms that I think might wither our plant. If you will. Some of you are very comfortable in your small groups. Some of you really like your small groups a lot. Whether it’s your home group and you’ve been together for years and those are all your best friends, or whether you’re in a mini congregation like your space on Sunday morning. There’s a flood of new people that are already starting to flow into Calvary post-pandemic. And we need new groups. We need new groups to form. Some of you are sitting in groups where you are four leaders deep into your group. Right? You’ve got some incredible folks in your group and it’s time to start something new that will expand the footprint of the gospel in our community. Some of you are very content not to be evangelistic. To be under the radar, as it were, as a Christian, to have sort of a private faith. Christian, you were never offered a private gospel. That was never offered to you. You might have thought that’s what you were receiving but that never came to you. You were offered a ministry of salt and light. You were offered an opportunity to come and die. I’ll stop there with a specific. I’m pretty sure the emails are going to roll in thick this week. Church, life is too short, eternity is too long, and the salvation of Christ is too wonderful for us to be off mission. It’s absolutely certain if we’re going to make the best use of our time in these evil days, we have to cultivate the heart of a missionary, a heart that beats to spread the glory of God, that longs for people to come to faith in Christ. That heart is filled with obedience. God show us where and when, and we’re going to be there for You. That heart is filled with mercy. God, show us where your lost sheep reside so that we can go to them, sit with them and find them. And that heart is filled with love. God, search my heart. Find the places that are hard within me. The places where my life doesn’t beat for Your glory. Where I am not passionate enough for Your mission. Make it soft. Make me a loving person. That’s what’s in the heart of a missionary. Because that’s what’s in the heart of our savior. Would you pray with me?